Blog | May 4, 2022

From Automation as a Tool to Automation as a Workforce Transformer

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Leadership To-Dos for 2022: What to do tomorrow

Would you say 2021 was tumultuous and uncertain, or educational and enlightening? Probably all of the above. While the last year certainly had its ups and downs, a lot was learned about how to be flexible and react to fast-moving changes in every part of business. Businesses around the world proved their ability to stay agile and adapt. This is a testament to the people and technology that fuels enterprise today. The data is clear that 2021 was a year of unprecedented increase in the use of automation technology and software robotics as a key tool on the leadership workbench to solve for many of the challenges faced and those just over the horizon. In a recent survey of 150 enterprises, 43% say COVID-19 changed the priority of their automation programs.

Not only have businesses consumed more automation than ever before, but technological advances in software robotics have also moved us firmly from tactical process automation into the world of intelligent automation. The combination of natural language processing, machine vision and easy to use “human-in-the-loop” (HITL) tools have given an order of magnitude power-up to what software robotics can do. With these new learnings and new capabilities, there are new possibilities and some new considerations.

The chaos shows no sign of slowing and the pace of change is only going one direction. How can you best prepare for the coming year? We know you want more satisfied customers, happier employees and better business performance. As leaders look to 2022, intelligent automation is no longer just a single tool for spot problem-solving. It is a comprehensive workbench to build transformative programs that can provide critical competitive advantage, drive core process effectiveness and, of course, deliver continuous efficiency gains. So, how should you be thinking about the year to come? We assembled a short list of To-Dos for anyone thinking about how to set 2022 up as a year for outstanding progress.

Four Trends and Four Actions

In conversations with our most progressive customers, we’ve taken these four things to share with you.

1. The automation platform. Automation tools are coming together as a platform rather than a set of stand-alone tools with different capabilities. The automation platform now enables better integration than ever before. Adding machine vision to automation opens the door to intelligent document processing. Adding natural language processing opens new worlds of possibility to contact centers and customer care operations. Using built-in tools to create and deploy simple human interfaces right inside the automation means you can seamlessly bring your people in to the loop with the automation when it’s in need of direction. This changes the game for complex workflows that exist in compliance-heavy operations and exception handling.

What to do now?

Have a plan to bring key capabilities together into a single platform. Benefits from the combination of these tools is an order of magnitude greater than each as a standalone. Perhaps more important is that IA now becomes a primary weapon in the fight to improve business outcomes, experience and effectiveness beyond efficiency.

Look at the top three pain points in your business or function. Hold a few workshops that include experts in automation (rent them if you don’t have them internally). Guaranteed: IA can make a big difference in at least one of those pain points. Get it on the table.

2. People first. Relatively speaking, the technology is the easy part of process improvement and transformation. While the tech is not trivial, as the depth of transformation expands tenfold, so does the level of disruption felt by your people. Change management can no longer be some thing HR sometimes does. It needs to be led from operational leadership... you. Effective change management is the difference between successful transformation and yet another frustrating project that didn’t deliver on the promised benefits.

    Your people have go through enormous amounts of change and they have change fatigue. Change management needs to be front and center in your automation program. It really does make a difference.

    What to do now?

    Talk to HR or your people team. Connect with your IT liaisons. Learn what your organization is doing well and not-so-sell when it comes to adoption of new technology. Is it communication? (It almost certainly is.) Is it training? How about incentives and recognition? Are you making the “case for change” compelling enough? Do you have a program for stakeholder management and overcoming resistance? What impact is this going to have on your organizational constructs and designs? These may not sound like world-changing ideas, but if we have learned anything from ERP and BPO, it is that change management is literally the key to successful transformation of operations and technology.

    3. It is The Way. Automation has typically been a “thing you do,” rather than a “way of thinking.” To truly unlock the power of IA, leadership must infuse automation it in all corporate initiatives. Too often, the “automation team” is isolated; it’s off in a corner focusing on transactional work. To be clear, these isolated teams can and do generate significant value for your company. However, when automation is at the table for all priority business programs, IA becomes a powerful tool that optimizes work, increases speed, and enhances experience every step of the way.

      Look to create a distributed team of automation champions who know what to look for and how to get the right teams involved to deliver automation improvements in line with the work that is already underway.

      What to do now?

      Talk with your corporate strategy team and senior operating leadership. Find out what is really going on. There are usually two big buckets: new stuff to do and fixing stuff you already do. Get both lists on the table. Establish open dialog (or, better yet, permanent organizational connection) between the leaders entrusted with these initiatives and their technology partners. This applies to both traditional IT and the automation team. Get folks permanently assigned to program teams to help identify where IA could make a big difference. Studies have shown that embedding automation experts into corporate programs and teams will result in far better solutions.

      4. Digital labor as an equivalent source of labor. This is a game changer. Thirty years ago, shared services, offshoring and BPO were discrete activities aimed at specific functions or processes. Today, planning of the sources of labor needed to meet the business goals is a routine activity. Optimizing the right work with the right source of labor is now a routine part of the work of leading businesses. There is much to be gleaned from the lessons of the offshoring world of 30 years ago as it pertains to IA.

        Technology (e.g., Citrix) and telecom (network speed and reliability) advances unlocked a whole global workforce that was previously inaccessible. In record time, companies figured out how to take advantage of low-cost-labor locations and rethink the way they had been organizing themselves to get that work done. Business figured out how to isolate and concentrate the right work to send offshore. In a very similar way, RPA has evolved and grown to become IA. The capabilities digital workers can now possess means that they can now take on more meaningful and complex work, and this has opened a new door on the core thinking about how your enterprise can get work done.

        What to do today?

        Harnessing the power of digital labor at scale is not a quick fix; just like outsourcing and offshoring. It will take time, and there is work to be done beforehand. A leadership imperative should be to fully understand the magnitude of that possibility. At least one-third of the work of business today can be handled by digital labor. Let that sink in for a moment.

        Analysts say that 25-40% of the work of an enterprise today can be performed by intelligent automation. Said another way, in an HBR article, their research of US jobs shows that 1.5 days’ worth of work, per week could be automated with the existing technology from the majority of jobs analyzed.

        This is a huge opportunity. At the same time, realizing the potential of scaled digital labor will require a similarly sized commitment and plan. This is remarkably similar to how we looked at leveraging offshore delivery. Digital labor at scale requires thinking differently about work. For 2022, understand the size of the prize and what it will take for your business to be an early mover. Moreover, the empirical evidence on offshoring, while still tentative, suggests that increased employment in the overseas affiliates of U.S. multinationals is associated with more employment in the U.S. parent rather than less. These econometric results are buttressed by similar findings in the business literature, where researchers from McKinsey Consulting calculate that overall net U.S. income rises by about 12-14 cents for every dollar of outsourcing (that is, gross income rises by $1.12-1.14).

          Separating the right work for your digital workforce and reimagining the future of your human work/workforce should be a top 3 priority for all major enterprises.

          Wrap-up

          We are witnessing the arrival of a new kind of labor: digital labor. It has exciting potential and it also requires commitment and care to make it happen. If you’d like to talk to someone more about the to-do list and your specific reality, please contact us today.